The Federal Government’s $10 Billion Plutonium Boondoggle
While a national debate rages over whether to spend $6 billion to keep down interest rates on loans that students desperately need, the government may spend $10 billion to make plutonium bombs and plutonium fuel that nobody wants. Congress and the Administration are in a fierce contest to see who can throw the most money into the plutonium pit.
Some members of Congress are trying to restore billions in funding for a new factory at the Los Alamos National Laboratory to make plutonium cores for nuclear bombs that the military doesn’t need. Meanwhile, President Obama is plowing ahead with plans to make plutonium fuel rods for power reactors that no power company wants to buy. Together, construction costs for these two radioactive white elephants add up to over $10 billion, and rising.
This is seriously wasteful spending at a time when we should be serious about fiscal responsibility and national security. Developing a nuclear strategy that is smart, efficient, and effective against current threats means cutting Cold War programs we no longer need.
PLUTONIUM PITS, MONEY PIT
The plutonium laboratory (sometimes called by its technical name, Chemical Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility, or CMRR) is the worst kind of nuclear boondoggle. Expensive and unnecessary, it diverts funds from other vital programs. Yet some members of Congress are still fighting to fund it.
“[Plutonium] pit production enabled by CMRR-NF is not needed to maintain U.S. nuclear weapons for decades to come,” said Bob Peurifoy, former vice president of Sandia Laboratories. “As a result, the Nuclear Facility might just sit there with nothing to do.”
Many of the planned functions of this new plutonium laboratory — plutonium pit storage, for example — can be carried out at already existing facilities. One thing sets CMRR apart: It can increase production of plutonium pits, the cores of nuclear weapons, to 80 per year. Production on this scale is completely unnecessary. We already have more than 14,000 pits in storage. Those pits will last at least 85 years, according to National Nuclear Security Administration’s own estimate.
For a project without a mission, the plutonium lab’s price tag is unbelievably high. Costs have exploded, from less than $400 million in 2001 to close to $6 billion today. Maintenance costs are through the roof too — almost $150 million per year, 15 times the costs of maintaining the old plutonium lab.